7 Fascinating Caffeine Withdrawal Side Effects No One Told You About
If you're used to drinking caffeinated beverages every day — whether in the form of coffees, sodas, energy drinks, or teas — you might experience some bizarre caffeine withdrawal symptoms, if you decide to suddenly cut back. These can range from physical symptoms, to mental and emotional ones. And it can all be pretty uncomfortable until your body adjusts.
Of course, a lack of caffeine won't impact everyone in the same way. "Usually someone needs to be taking at least 100 mg per day before stopping to experience symptoms," Dr. David Gatz, of Mercy Medical Center, tells Bustle. Whether you forgot your usual morning cup, or are cutting back on purpose, you might feel a difference within 12 to 24 hours, Dr. Gatz says, with more intense withdrawal symptoms a day or two later.
If you're trying to rely less on things like coffee and soda in order to get through the day, there are ways to get through the process with suffering too much. As Dr. Gatz says, "Individuals wishing to reduce their caffeine intake should consider doing so gradually if they are using large amounts of caffeine on daily basis."
You might, for example, go down from four cups a day to three, switch to decaf, or water-down your coffee until you don't need it anymore. While it may not be fun at first, there are plenty of ways to get through the caffeine withdrawal symptoms listed below, and come out the other side.
1. Everything Might Bug You
"Your brain has receptors that caffeine directly affects," Dr. Thanu Jey, clinic director at Yorkville Sports Medicine Clinic, tells Bustle. "These receptors are for neurotransmitters that can induce feelings such as irritability, nervousness, anxiety, etc."
Your brain can get used to operating on a daily intake of caffeine. But "when you remove caffeine from your system, these effects increase temporarily," Dr. Jey says, "causing these withdrawal symptoms." So don't be surprised if everyone and everything grates on your last nerve, until you adjust.
2. Anxiety Can Creep In
While drinking coffees and sodas can cause jitteriness and anxiety in some, quitting caffeine can — rather frustratingly — lead to the exact same feelings. And it has to do with those aforementioned neurotransmitters and caffeine's effect on the brain.
Feelings of anxiety are particularly common in folks who are used to higher doses of caffeine and then cut back suddenly, licensed psychotherapist Christine Scott-Hudson, MA MFT ATR, tells Bustle, which is again why it is typically recommended to slowly taper off over a period of time.
3. You Might Feel Foggy
"Brain fog is a noted symptom of caffeine withdrawal, which is increased difficulty [in following] conversations, difficulty thinking clearly, and even difficulty staying on task," Scott-Hudson says. You might, for example, feel spaced out at work, or have a hard time paying attention during a phone call.
These symptoms will go away in a few days, but it can be a rough adjustment in the meantime. To feel better, try swapping every other cup of regular coffee with decaf, so you aren't going completely cold turkey. And try to avoid having caffeine later in the day.
4. Digestive Issues Can Occur
"Caffeine withdrawal is a serious, very real reaction to weaning yourself off of coffee and other caffeine-containing drinks," Dr. Josh Axe, DNM., CNS, DC, founder of Ancient Nutrition and author, tells Bustle. And some of the more unpleasant physical side effects include a whole slue of digestive symptoms, like nausea, constipation, and abdominal pains.
5. You Might Struggle To Make Decisions
Believe it or not, cutting back on caffeine can temporarily impact your ability to make decisions. And that's thanks to the fact caffeine increases your levels of dopamine. As Bart Wolbers, researcher at Nature Builds Health, tells Bustle, "You don't only need dopamine to be motivated, happy, and assertive, but also for abstract and outside-the-box thinking."
You might notice that, in lowering your caffeine intake, you'll have a tough time seeing the big picture, Wolbers says, or coming up with creative solutions. Don't worry, though, as it isn't a problem that'll stick around.
6. You Can Feel Down In The Dumps
"Caffeine withdrawal can lead to a lack of concentration, lack of motivation, and lethargy," Scott-Hudson says, all of which can mimic symptoms of depression and make you feel sluggish or sad. And if that's out of character for you, the lack of caffeine may be to blame.
The thing is, you can choose to push symptoms, or simply undo them by having caffeine. As Dr. Gatz says, "The single most effective treatment for caffeine withdrawal is to consume some replacement caffeine. This will help symptoms within 30 to 60 minutes."
Remember, caffeine isn't dangerous. For folks who want to cut back, it may be for personal or health-related reasons, and not because caffeine is "bad." It's usually safe to consume caffeine in moderate doses, and there can even be quite a few benefits to doing so.
7. You Might Get A "Cold"
Weirdly, some people might even experience flu-like symptoms while going through caffeine withdrawal, Dr. Gatz says, which can include the likes of fatigue, headaches, and muscle aches. Headaches, in particular, are one of the more common side effects of caffeine withdrawal, with about half of people experiencing them.
Again, it depends on things like how much caffeine you were consuming to begin with, Dr. Gatz says. If you're used to having several large coffees a day, and then go down to zero, you will probably feel worse than someone who only ever had one.
"In severe cases," Dr. Gatz says, "symptoms can last up to nine days." You can make it easier on yourself, though, by slowly weaning yourself off your usual caffeine intake. It'll be much easier to cut back if you don't have headaches, anxiety, and digestive issues, so be kind to yourself.